Celebrate the Facts!
The 2023 defense budget the Biden Administration submits to Congress early this year is critical. Department of Defense (DOD) officials promise a ‘transformational’ budget. Transformational means purchasing commitments for new weapons systems that have been in the development process. They will have to eliminate politically popular but costly and outmoded weapons systems to make that investment and remain equivalent to 2021 levels. Regardless of political invective, the budget will likely end in a substantial increase.
The United States Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 by a vote of 88-11. The House had passed the bill by a vote of 363-70. Despite alleged political divides in Washington, the legislative bodies ratified a bloated budget proposed by the ‘liberal’ Biden Administration. The 2022 budget is higher in real terms than what the United States was spending during the Reagan administration and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The idea of equal value to investment works in most areas of the federal government. Unfortunately, that is less true in the United States Department of Defense (DOD). The national discourse centers around the needs of the United States moneyed class to maintain supply lines and markets. Much less so is the actual national defense, making the name of the DOD a misnomer. Add a dose of congressional pork, and the DOD budget leaves little discretionary direction.
The DOD has a budget of more than the following ten countries combined. The DOD owns more than half the federal budget. Full of sinecures and fiefdoms, the DOD operates as an immense bureaucracy with limited accountability for funds.
Squirreled within the 2022 budget was a requirement for a formal evaluation of the United States Defense Department (DOD) budget process. The name will be the Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) Reform.’ Unfortunately, the composition of this commission is unknown, so conjecture about outcomes is pointless. Regardless, the commission's recommendations are years away.
The budget process is full of congressional meddling to obtain revenues for military contractors in different geographic areas. Canny military equipment vendors locate subcontractors in various congressional districts to curry votes.
The most recent offender is the F-35 fighter program. The Lockheed Martin fighter is over eight years past schedule and $165 billion over budget. Shockingly, the fighter has met virtually none of its specified metrics. The F-35 is the biggest turkey ever built.
Lockheed Martin’s supply chain includes 1,900 companies in the United States and every nation acquiring the F-35. The DOD is married to this flying boondoggle, and Congress will undoubtedly assure it.
Outdated legacy programs require many spare parts and often stay alive because of congressional pressure. High-cost and outmoded legacies include the fossilized B-52 bomber, now fitted with new engines to extend its flying life. Another is the A-10 aircraft, still alive despite desperate DOD requests to mothball it.
The current budget and procurement process results in eight-year-long decision times to start acquisition programs. Add that to 15 to 20 years to develop and deploy new weapons systems, and one ends up with a beastly bureaucracy that can only build systems long-outdated when they roll out.
Technology improvements in hypersonic missiles, stealth technology, and cyber warfare require shorter development cycles. Artificial intelligence, machine warfare, and drone technology are essential elements in future warfare and evolve swiftly. The technology improvements also render many previous platforms obsolete.
This ‘transformational’ 2023 budget promises to change all this.
One of the items that likely will include is funding the MQ-25 Stingray. The menacing moniker is in accord with long-time Pentagon tradition. This aerial refueling drone will be the world’s first operational, carrier-based crewless aircraft, giving the United States Navy a bone. Funding the program will also fatten Boeing, the manufacturer.
There are other apparent areas for adjustment. The DOD has shown its disenchantment with the F-35 program. They might choose to reduce purchasing commitments to free funding. Further procurement of F-15 fighters, with much lower operating costs than the F-35, would indicate the DOD plans to backfill the F-35 reduction with obsolete but cheaper planes.
The Air Force and the Navy each have a sixth-generation aircraft in development, and one should anticipate a significant amount of funding increase in that area.
The Army has its systems the call the Big Six for further funding:
Another area sure for the budget increase is cybersecurity.
The money to make worthwhile investments must come from somewhere. The amount will likely be static when adjusted for inflation. The withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted in substantial cost savings. Inflation will increase military wages, although a small amount compared to weapons procurement.
To maintain budget levels and modernize legacy programs will have to be retired. Whether the Biden Administration or the Congress has the belly to do that is doubtful, particularly in an election year. As a result, another immense increase to an already obese DOD budget is more likely to occur.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.